My hat is deep and full of magic (angelgazing) wrote in takethehouse,
My hat is deep and full of magic

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fic: the absence of truth in cartography - part one - danny/rusty

title: The Absence of Truth in Cartography
author: Nichole (angelgazing)
summary: of want, love and Danny Ocean
rating: R
recipient: nifra_idril
notes: Thanks for restless_jedi for the beta, miss_charmed for the vile enabling and musesfool for listening to me talk through it.

He wakes up in Vancouver at seven-oh-nine Monday morning with the alarm clock radio shouting good morning, Seattle.

It's raining outside, thick sheets of rain that hit sideways, hit the yellowing window of the motel room straight on like the window is a nothing thing. Like it's gonna fall inside in pieces any second now.

Rusty rubs his eyes and blinks sleepy-slow. He feels like he's been awake for days, getting by moment to moment on cheap coffee and sheer force of will, but he blinks again and props himself up on his elbows to survey the room.

Danny pulls the curtains closed when he comes inside dripping wet; they're moth-eaten, but it's dark enough outside from the rain to not matter. He turns off the alarm to silence the voice of a radio talk show host who's too damn cheerful for seven in the morning. No one's got a right to sound that awake sometimes.

"Go back to sleep," Danny says, peeling off the layers of his rented tux. He tosses a white paper sack to Rusty. Half a dozen donuts, the powdery white kind that always leave Rusty looking like a cocaine addict, but they're his favorites.

Sometimes Rusty thinks he sticks around because Danny knows these things. He scratches his cheek and yawns. "What happened to Vancouver?" he asks, and sets the bag on the cheap particleboard nightstand painted a dingy, nicotine-stained white. It takes a lot to make him lose his appetite.

"Well," Danny says, and grins like he isn't as tired as Rusty has been for about a week now. His fingers pull at the wet laces of his black dress shoes. "While you were, as you put it, slight intoxicated, you became more blatant in your seduction of the underage bellboy who turned out to be the son of a man whose money we… liberated at the game Wednesday night."

Rusty tilts his head down and grins. "You, Daniel Ocean, are a liar," he says, and lies back down. The pillow is worn flat and hard.

"Little bit," Danny admits, and sits down on the other side of the bed. "You fell asleep in the car on the way back from the thing, when we got to the hotel they were there so I thought it best to keep driving."

"You are the idea man." Rusty pulls up the bedspread, it's pink and sea-foam green and it's cheap-motel room rough and everything about this place has a faint aroma of mold. "I'm going back to sleep now," he announces, like Danny's going to be surprised by it.

"We're getting old, Rusty," Danny says and tugs the other pillow from under Rusty's elbow, "if this is our idea of a victory celebration."

"You picked the place." Rusty shifts, a little, like he's more restless than he is, and his elbow bumps with Danny's. "You could've at least sprung for a double," he adds as their knees knock.

"If you sleep through the sign-in you get no say."

"That's a new rule."

Danny yawns and his toes are cold against Rusty's calf. "You've gotta be open to change, Russ, or you'll never make it in this business."

"Shut up and go to sleep," Rusty says, and rolls over twenty-three seconds later to the sound of Danny already snoring.


"Please tell me you're joking," Rusty says dryly and leans to the left to see past Danny so he can watch Batman on one of the three cable stations the motel gets. He's got white powder all over one hand and the remote in the other.

Danny stands with his shoulder pressing hard against the doorframe of the bathroom. The lights in there are yellow, and yellow light is second only to florescent light in the unforgiving department, but somehow Danny makes it look good. He makes everything look good, when Rusty doesn't kind of, sort of hate him. His toes are bare and curled into the orange shag carpet and his arms are crossed in front of his chest. He has a bruise on his thigh from Rusty's knee.

He isn't kidding, of course. He takes his role as the idea man very seriously.

The picture on the TV gets fuzzy every five seconds in time with a howl of the wind outside. It's three in the afternoon and lazy Sunday gray outside, like mornings when you don't want to get out of bed.

Rusty sighs and drops the remote onto the bed beside him. "Fine," he says, "but you're putting some pants on first."


Washington's got this desperate, pressing, choking cool thing going on and it makes something just under Rusty's skin itch, like he didn't spend two months side by side Danny in Canada relearning everything he thought he knew.

He left the TV on their motel room, and the convertible they're in belonged to the people in 2B who turned up the radio at noon and jumped until ceiling dust was falling on Rusty's head and making Danny sneeze.

The wheel is that funny kind of comfortable that most things are in his grip though. It fits nice into the curve of his palm around it like maybe he should keep it.

It's that same ugly sea-foam green as everything you never want to see again. Like the prom dress Leann Johnson wore, when she was a junior and tagging along on Danny's arm like she was the queen of the ball and then Danny'd been Danny and the night ended with her throwing her sea-foam green shoes at Rusty's head and nearly giving him a concussion.

Danny always got him into trouble, and that was only the start of Rusty's dislike for the color.

It's closing in on midnight and he'd followed the interstate to Idaho. Rusty is driving down Forty-second Street of a town he'd never been to in a stolen convertible with the top down and Danny in the passenger's seat wearing his blue striped boxer shorts and a tuxedo shirt.

So he knew. He'd known from the very second that the idea popped into Danny's head when they were sixteen and hiding under the docks with stolen beer from a party down the beach that this was going to get him into trouble. He knew that like he knew five card stud and how to win at blackjack.

Problem was it wouldn't be half as much fun otherwise.


Rusty takes it as fact that at two-thirty in the morning the best thing in the world is breakfast.

Real breakfast like Rusty never had on mornings when he was rushing to get to school on time, but eggs and bacon and toast and sausage and hash browns and maybe pancakes too, if they have the right kind of syrup but of course they never do because this is Denny's and it's always going to be the same at every one.

Danny sits in the booth across from him, actually, thankfully, wearing a pair of jeans left in the backseat of the car. They fit a little snug and the waitress isn't the only one who watches him walk to the bathroom out of the corner of her eye.

The seats are that horrible red vinyl that never should've made it out of the fifties and it creaks any time Rusty breathes.

There's nothing here that's subtle.


Danny's the restless one. Rusty can't be still, sometimes, but it's Danny who's really restless. He can never be content, like it's always gotta be the next thing, the bigger thing, the better thing.

He drives through Idaho and into Wyoming while Rusty dozes and listens to his stories and plans by the green dashboard light until dawn.

Danny makes a clumsy shift into third because he can talk all he wants, but he's never been able to drive a standard without trouble. The thing about Danny is he's all talk, he's all plans and big dreaming. Rusty wouldn't know what to do without it though.

It's not until they're in Jackson, Wyoming and there's a billboard for Grand Teton Nation Park that Rusty realizes Danny's got no idea where they're going either.

"Time to stop," Rusty says, turning his head to look out the window. Dawn is a sleepy blue-gray outside and they're just on the edge of tourist season, so the traffic is more than is safe for Danny Ocean to be driving through in a stick-shift. Rusty doesn't really care to die in a car this color; it lacks dignity.


Danny's got a palm curved around the gearshift and one hand on the wheel and his thighs spread almost too wide for driving. He's leaned back in the bucket seat and Rusty's never seen anyone look so casual about anything as Danny can look about everything.

He pulls into a parking spot along the back of the lot of tourist trap bed and breakfast. The kind of place that wants you to think it's Mom & Pop, all locally owned and lovingly decorated with your grandmother's quilts at the foot of every bed.

He looks out the side window at the mountains and slides his fingertips down to the lowest curve of the wheel before dropping them onto his lap. They rub against the borrowed denim there and it's like—

Rusty's known him long enough and well enough to know when he's working up to something.

Danny's never been the kind of guy that had to work up to something when it came to Rusty though. It's always been an easy smile and a stupid plan and he'd tell Rusty all about it with that tone of voice that was just this side of a dare. Danny was loud and smooth, he'd look at Rusty with a glass of scotch in his hand and whisper whatever entered his mind.

He worked up to things with marks, worked up to getting this or that from the rich widow his mother's age that'd been under the knife more times than Rusty'd beaten him at five card stud. Danny worked up to women in their buttoned up shirts and sensible skirts that know him for what he is and always give in in the end anyway.

Rusty leaves him in the car while he checks in. Pays for two rooms on card lifted from a guy at a gas station just outside of Oregon. The girl behind the counter is young and mousy. He smiles at her and calls her by the name on her nametag and she doesn't check the signature.


Rusty drives south for absolutely no reason at all three days later in a baby blue minivan with a sticky red handprint on the back window and Cheetos stomped into the floorboards.

It's almost backtracking, but they go to Salt Lake where Rusty knows a guy who lets them trade it off for an '85 Mustang.

They stop at the carnival of a small town in Utah that Rusty's never heard of to stretch their legs. Danny hands him an order of nachos and it's an apology, but Rusty isn't sure what for. He's not sure Danny knows either, as they sit on the handrails of a ride ramp and watch the bumper cars.

"Twenty says the boy in the blue car starts crying," Rusty says, and sucks the cheese off his knuckle like always makes Danny grunt in annoyance. He's got the same manners he had when he was twelve and too skinny, but they never bothered Danny then. No one ever said he wasn't petty. "That girl is going to crush him."

"You're on," Danny says, and laughs. He curves his palm around the back of Rusty's neck, his thumb pressing into the soft skin just behind Rusty's ear.

Rusty's getting a sunburn.


They stop to fill up the tank at a station on the outskirts of a town called Kayenta in Arizona and Rusty buys Doritos, Dr. Pepper and a map.

In Tuba City they try to decide between the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. Danny flips a coin and drives toward New Mexico.


Rusty lets Danny drive through the desert. Through the cracked blacktop back roads where the traffic is scarce.

On the crackling radio Steve Winwood is singing about how he's back in the high life again. Danny sings along, quietly, with a smile, and completely off key.

With his forehead to the window, Rusty watches the white lines of the road, and the sand and the desert shrubs.

They've got the air on full blast and the back of Rusty's neck is still damp with sweat. His t-shirt is sticking to him and he's sticking to the seat. The sun shines in through the windows and he's pretty sure he knows now what it feels like to be baked. He's beginning to turn an unfortunate shade of red.

He watches through half-closed eyes as the shadows outside grow longer, taller, and listens to Danny sing along badly to the radio until they lose the station, and he smiles.


"Truth or Consequences," Danny says and grins. Sometimes Danny is more idealistic than he is smart. Sometimes Rusty doesn't mind it.

"You do know you’re a thief?" he asks, because this isn't one of those times.

"Come on, Russ, what're you afraid of?"

Rusty snorts and slouches in the passenger seat. His teeth grind in time with the transmission when Danny misses second taking off from the four-way stop. "Tempting fate," he answers and peels the label from an empty Dr. Pepper bottle.

Danny shrugs it off and keeps grinning. "Nothing to lose, right?"

"I hate it when you do that," Rusty says, and Danny takes too long switching into fifth. "Alright, just… just pull over. Christ."


Danny books a double at the Best Western in town.

The walls inside the room are a shade of pink not meant for human eyes to see without warning. It's one of those places where everything except the bedding, the bible in the nightstand drawer and the phonebook is nailed down.

Something about thieves like them, Rusty supposes. He throws his bag on the bed closest to the window and stretches out sideways across the other.

Danny goes to take a piss and leaves the bathroom door just barely open.

The ceiling is dingy, dirty white and the TV gets HBO. There's a pool out back filled with water that looks a little more green than it should. He considers going for a swim and he considers drowning Danny.

He toes off his tennis shoes and thinks very seriously about walking the three steps across the room to turn up the air, but he's not sure it'd really be worth it.

"I don't know that I'll be able to sleep with a blanket this bright," Rusty says. "It may keep me awake."

"It's not that bad," Danny laughs, and flops down on the same bed Rusty's on. "You," he adds, like an accusation that he thinks is going to be funny, "are just a snob."

Rusty's practically got his head on Danny's stomach, and he sighs, and he agrees. "I'd never make it in the clink," he adds. And doesn't smile when it makes Danny laugh again.

"Thread count probably wouldn't be up to your standard," Danny says on a dramatic sigh. "Also I'm pretty sure no one actually calls it the clink." He puts his hand on Rusty's shoulder and then pulls it away. Like he's suddenly clumsy and like Rusty hasn't always known better.

Rusty sits up and sighs. "You're buying me dinner."

Danny hands him the take-out menus stuffed inside the phone book and then orders pizza from Dominos without bothering to ask what kind.


It's not something Rusty's ever thought of, just an odd moment here or there where he'll notice the way one of them will mimic the other.

They're both propped up against the headboard, side by side with the mostly empty pizza box between them, arms crossed over their chests and legs crossed at the ankles.

He grabs another slice of pizza for something better to do with his hands and Danny doesn't look away from the movie on HBO that they haven't managed to identify yet until he's grunting at Rusty for licking the grease off of his fingers.


"I can get you very, very drunk?" Danny offers from his bed by the window, half-sitting propped up on one elbow, because the clock on the nightstand reads eleven-ten and check out was forty minutes ago.

Because these things typically concern the two of them.

Danny's still half asleep, hair sticking up in a hundred different directions and red lines from wrinkles in the pillowcase running across his face. He's got more stubble than he ever has, even that time when he decided to try and grow a beard for his twenty-first birthday.

It only ever made him look sketchy and very, very something that Rusty is hesitant to name or think about too hard.

The sun is coming in from outside white and hot through the space where the curtains won't quite pull closed. The TV is turned on to cartoons on Fox and the air hums happily and the room is cool.

"Not right now," Rusty yawns, and scratches his cheek. He pulls the sheet over his head and rolls over and goes back to sleep.


"I have decided," he says, over hamburgers and fries, "that razors are not for road trips."

"So you're keeping that until we get home?" Rusty asks, and takes a bite.


"Just out of curiosity, are we ever going home? Or will we continue to aimlessly wander around the greater southwestern United States?"

Danny shrugs. "You're the details man."

"Right," Rusty says, "for all the good that's done so far."

"You bought a map."

"You threw it out the window."

"That was an accident."

"You accidentally opened the window of the car and threw out the map?" Rusty asks, just because it's his line. He blinks slowly at Danny and he's got ketchup on his thumb from his fries when he picks the pickles off his burger.

"Yeah. I meant to throw your little sailor hat out the window and grabbed the map by mistake."

Rusty snorts. "You are a liar," he says, pointing at Danny with a fry. Danny hands him a napkin before he can lick the salt and ketchup off his fingertips. "And I don't have a little sailor hat. I resent that implication."


Some days there are things he doesn't think of on purpose. Danny and Rusty have spent nearly every day together since Rusty was eleven and Danny was just turning twelve and was conning kids out of their baseball cards with little more than a smile and a promise of friendship.

He wonders sometimes how it is that they fill the days sometimes, but then he remembers that Danny's always filled the days with enough big dreaming for the both of them. When he was thirteen he couldn't be convinced that he and Danny weren't going to run the world one day.

They play penny poker on the bedspread of Danny's bed in the hotel with cheap cards and Rusty's winning because cards are the only place he's ever won with Danny. He takes his winnings to the vending machine down the hall without bothering to put on his shoes and he isn't surprised when he comes back and Danny's gone.

He tries to break up the reds from the blues from the greens in the bedspread, the big splotches of color that blind him and he doesn't think about why it is that he's always following Danny until Danny comes back with a bottle of cheap tequila, a pocket knife and a bag of limes he probably stole from the guy on the corner.

Rusty never gave up his cards, but he's pretty sure that doesn't actually matter.

"If you think you're getting me drunk so we can play truth or dare," Rusty says, like a threat, and follows Danny back out to the car.


Danny parks the car on the kind of hill that's a mountain peak if you never left New England until you were twenty-two. The kind of place that's only ever been parked on by teenagers looking for action in the backseat of their parents' cars and the parents attempting to relive the youth they wasted on late nights in the backseats of cars.

He raises his eyebrows but doesn't comment. Just sits on the warm hood of the car and opens the bottle. There's red clay dirt on his shoes, and he feels gritty and dirty when the wind blows, like he's never going to get it all off again. He leans back against the windshield and tilts his head to the skyline.

"You've officially lost all of your subtlety," Rusty says, and sighs, and takes a swig straight from the bottle because neither of them thought to bring glasses. It's a special kind of awful and Rusty squints at Danny standing in front of him in the late afternoon sun like he's just waiting for something.

"You never had any subtlety to lose," Danny tells him and is dark against orangeredyellow the clouds rolling heavy grayblue across the horizon. He waits, just a second, and takes the bottle then sits next to Rusty.

Rusty shrugs and his shoulder bumps Danny's, makes the lip of the tequila bottle bump and clink softly against his teeth. He opens the bag and gets out a lime and doesn’t actually bother hoping that didn't hurt.

"To Truth or Consequences," Danny grins, and raises the bottle. He's wearing the jeans they found in the first car again, so the denim is stretched tight across his thighs. The knife is in his pocket and he knows. He really, really knows and Rusty would be more surprised if he didn't, so.

The wind blows again and Danny's t-shirt was white when he bought it in Wyoming, but it'll never be white again, because the sand the wind kicks up is never going to come out of anything. Like it'll still be coming off of Rusty when he's getting a sponge bath from a pretty nurse named Sam when he's in the retirement home.

He takes back the bottle. "To your subtlety," Rusty says, and raises the bottle at Danny. "May it find all it looks for in its new home. It will be sorely missed here." He drinks until it burns too much. "Give me the knife."

Danny sighs, and wiggles a little and kicks Rusty in the ankle because his jeans are tight and probably because Rusty is watching him. It's hard to tell sometimes. "If I'd really said farewell to my subtlety," he mutters, and smiles, and hands over the pocketknife only when Rusty gives him back the bottle.

"Maybe," Rusty admits, and watches his hands because it's getting dark and he likes having ten fingers. They come in handy.

It's a whiskey-fire sunset and his shoes are always going to be stained with New Mexico what-passes-for-soil and Danny's shoulder is pressed to his and burning hot. Rusty sucks on a wedge of lime.

"So your plan is to get me very, very drunk?" Rusty asks, randomly, because it seems like it might be a good thing to know. He takes the bottle back from Danny and licks off the lime juice running down the inside of his wrist before taking a drink.

Danny makes a funny noise in the back of his throat to make Rusty look at him. It's getting just that too dark to see, though, so it doesn't matter that much.

"Well," Danny says, and clears his throat and grins. The grin he saves for marks and women he knows want him if only he could make them see. It's a stupid grin. "Or I could not. It's up to you."

"Did you happen to think of how we're going to get back to the hotel if we both are very, very drunk?" Rusty asks, and raises his eyebrows, and takes another drink so they can find the real topic at hand.

Danny sort of, kind of, almost cringes, like he does every time he lets someone who isn't Rusty handle the details and then something gets fucked up royally. "Some of us can handle our liquor," Danny says, like he's still got a fighting chance of winning this one.

"Yes," Rusty says and nods, "some of us can. However you, dear Daniel, have a nasty habit of not being able to hold your tequila." He tosses what's left of that lime and folds the knife back up carefully.

The hood of the car is still warm under his palm when he drops his hand there so he can shift his weight. He tilts his head back to the stars that are beginning to show. The sun is just a sliver still sinking, like the horizon is going to swallow it down piece by piece. Rusty laughs and slides down until his feet are on the ground.

"I can walk a straight line," Danny says, before he can ask. And does, and does a damn decent job of it, really, so Rusty nods and laughs again and takes another drink like he's dying of thirst and that'll save him.

"Okay," Rusty says, and nods again and Danny is just a shadow now, in the dark, just Rusty's shadow, always there beside him. Or, well, probably it's the other way around. "Then let's go."


They drive with the windows down and Rusty shivers because at night the heat is just gone like it was never here to begin with. He's got the fingers of one hand curled around the tequila and the limes are in a bag on the floorboards by his feet.

Rusty leans back against the car door with one arm almost hanging out the window and the cold air makes him feel scarily sober when he's not sure he wants to and he can't bring himself to take a drink for the sight of Danny with his knuckles white from his grip on the steering wheel.

It takes a lot to make Danny lose his cool, it always has. Danny's been calm since the very moment Rusty met him and probably forever since. Rusty could probably count the number of times Danny'd shown an emotion for a reason other than getting what he wanted on one hand.

The radio is glowing green and playing an old country song about being drunk and losing your lover or something. It can just barely be heard above the wind, and Rusty can barely hear the wind for the blood rushing through him.

He missed this.

This sort of terrifying moment of knowing what's coming and not being there and being half afraid of getting there. He laughs, softly and smiles when Danny looks over at him. There's not enough light to see by, really, but it's been a long time since he's needed to see Danny to know what he's doing.

Rusty leans over so Danny can hear him and it's sort of like it's always been because Danny tilts toward him without thought but it's not like it's always been because it's this. "You scared?" he asks, and his nose collides with Danny's cheek when Danny hits a bump in the road.

He drops the bottle in the seat beside him to catch himself from falling. He's got a grip on the back of Danny's seat like it's his life preserver and he rubs at his nose because it tickles, almost. Rusty leans forward again and can feel Danny's stubble on his lips when Danny turns his head a little to say, "Nothing to lose, right?"

Rusty laughs again because that's probably the dumbest and least true thing that Danny has ever said and Danny shivers. Rusty thinks he probably gets it, but if he doesn't that's fine too.

"Hey," Danny says, over the wind rushing in through the windows and the radio playing a song they're too young to really know and Rusty's head is sort of spinning like it does when they're inches away from getting what they want and no one's around to tell them to stop, "you're not," he asks, "really, really drunk, are you?"

"Why, did you dig deep into your… depths and find some previously undiscovered morals?" Rusty asks, like it's an answer and it is. It's very, very much an answer. He presses his fingers against Danny's shoulder like all the assurance he's ever given to Danny before. He moves to sit back and thinks better of it and then thinks better of staying. "You're not," he asks, "really, really scared, are you?"

"Maybe," Danny answers, and laughs and his knuckles are still white against the steering wheel and he runs a red light because he's a criminal and also because Rusty sat back in his seat like he was supposed to and Danny was too busy looking at him to notice it.

The transmission grinds when Danny misses third again when he's slowing down to turn into their hotel parking lot. Rusty takes exactly half a second to decide that he doesn't care at all because they're stopped.

Rusty's fingers curl over, stumble over the lock on the door that's half pushed in by accident, by a knock of his elbow when he's coming back down from over there and into over here and Danny grins like he always does.

"Never," Rusty says, and clears his throat and his hands won't stay still. His fingertips tap against the edge of Danny's seat, just almost, just sort of, just barely brushing against his thigh on the upswing, "thought I'd hear—"

"Rusty," Danny says, like he always does when Rusty is listening really, really hard for him to. All choked back, clammed up, Danny Ocean emotionless easy, with that catch, that second of well, well, maybe that lingers just under his words sometimes. "Get out of the car," he says, and is so slow and so careful in pulling the key out of the ignition that Rusty could, maybe, do something even dumber than he's about to.

Rusty laughs all breathless stupid and it's… It's stupid. It's really, really stupid and this is Danny and Rusty is getting out of the car and pushing the lock in again before he shuts the door and pretending that he doesn't feel sixteen again.

Danny catches his wrist, wraps his fingers around the bones there and pretends he's looking at Rusty's watch and really, really Rusty is shivering because the temperature drop and not for any other, much more teenage girl reason. He's got the tequila and the bag of limes in his other hand and the paper makes a crunching sound in his fist when he pulls Rusty a little bit closer.

Their footsteps are slow and they echo across the parking lot, the sound bouncing off between the buildings. The gate to the pool is open and it creaks on its hinges when the wind moves it. And this is never, ever going to be over because the door to their room is too far away and he keeps his feet steady like he's calmer than he is and Danny's fingers tighten around his wrist.

Someone sort of, kind of, on purpose makes a misstep and it's probably Danny but Rusty can't say for certain, and their hips bump together on the next step forward. The next step closer. It's just a second of contact and then it's gone and Danny's thumb slips under the band of his watch to press against his pulse point so Rusty can't hide that his heart is racing now and he probably couldn't before because this is Danny.

"Danny," he says, and it sounds a little bit strangled so he clears his throat and it makes no sense that they aren't inside yet. And he sort of really doesn't care right now that he knows what Danny's doing. He doesn't turn his head, but looks at Danny out of the corner of his eye. "You've got the key."

"Yeah." Danny drops Rusty's wrist and looks a little bit bashful, or not, because Danny doesn't look bashful as a rule unless it'll get him what he wants and you could light Las Vegas on the sparks he sets off, but that's nothing out of the ordinary so Rusty is at a loss. Danny pulls the key out of his back pocket and turns to look at Rusty like, well.

Rusty lifts the corner of his mouth and leans against the wall just outside the door. It's a painful color of green and the paint is peeling. The number is the kind of number every cheap hotel ever has on it. All fake gold and dull. He watches Danny fumble with the key and presses his thumb against Danny's hipbone because–well, because he can.

Danny inhales sharply and it's surprisingly well lit out here, but his shadow keeps sneaking over to hide the lock and Rusty smiles because he can't make the key fit and he really, really doesn’t think that it's symbolic. "There," Danny says, when it's the snick fit of lock and key and the door opening.

The air is still on full blast and it hits them like a wall when they go inside. When Rusty follows Danny in and shuts the door behind them and doesn't listen to Danny put down the bag while he latches the chain-lock too.

Danny steps up behind him and it's like he's a mountain of heat behind Rusty, who's got goosebumps rising along his arms. Danny breathes and his breath is hot on the back of Rusty's neck and Rusty turns around and Danny breathes and his breath is hot on Rusty's cheek because, oh, because they're really gonna do this.

It's more surprising to Rusty than it should be. It's not that often he lets anything Danny does surprise him anymore.

Rusty's hand is on Danny's arm and he's not sure how it got there, but Danny is warm under his palm, against the pressing cold of the room. His thumb goes this way then that, an arch of movement that makes Danny shiver for once. There's a hangnail on his thumb that catches on the hem on the inside of Danny's sleeve.

"God," Danny says, like a gasp against Rusty's jaw where his mouth is warmdamp and his cheek is stubble rough.

Rusty laughs, kind of, it's still too breathless and stupid, but, well. His thumbnail scratches, just lightly, the skin of Danny's arm and Danny's nose presses against his cheekbone.

Danny's got one hand on the door, just over Rusty's shoulder and so close that Rusty could turn his head that way instead of this way and press his mouth there too. Could taste the salt-bitter pulse beating furiously there. And it's really kind of a toss up. But, well. Danny's other hand is on his neck, fingers curling into the short hair at the nape of his neck, his thumb sliding against Rusty's jaw and making the choice for him.

"Ready?" he asks, like he asked the same question before their first game together and before their first job together and Rusty's always thought he was asking himself, really, if he was ready, but Rusty's always nodded anyway, always grinned and said, "Yes" and this time isn't any exception except that it kind of is because when he nods his nose bumps against Danny's cheek again.

"Yeah," Rusty says and smiles. His mouth is open when Danny leans forward, when Danny closes the space between them.

Danny's mouth is softened tequila raw, fucking hot against Rusty's and it's not like he always imaged kissing Danny would be because really he never imagined kissing Danny. Rusty may've spent a few very drunk nights focused on his mouth, but kissing him was never something that. Well.

He's pretty sure that'll never be true again. Because Danny's mouth slides perfectly against his, fits perfectly, and his bottom lip drops open to match Rusty's and his stubble is rough so Rusty'll have marks from this tomorrow because his skin is being rubbed raw from it and he really, really, really wants to mind. But he's going to spend the rest of his life imagining kissing Danny, so he'll take it.

They're pressed together, mouths and hands touching and shoulders holding them both up against the door. Rusty grins and slides his tongue across Danny's bottom lip. Danny cups his face in his palms and Rusty slides his hand from Danny's side and over. Pressing a half-closed fist at the base of Danny's spine and it's like an embrace, almost. It's close enough to count.

Danny sucks on his bottom lip and then nips it. His teeth are sharp against Rusty's bruised mouth like, well. Like he's breathing and tasting. Danny's the one laughing like he's breathless now, and it makes Rusty smile. The corner of his mouth rubs like something dangerously soft against Danny's stubble as his hand slides under the not-white-anymore t-shirt that Danny's wearing.

It's funny, maybe, but it's not much of a shock that they can do this well together too.

Rusty can feel him breathe, can feel the hitch of a gasp in Danny's chest when he presses closer and they press together and it's better than good. Better than great. Better than the time they stole all the files from the principle's office and sold them for twenty bucks a pop and the time they got through museum security to take a painting without a hitch combined.

Maybe it's an odd comparison to make, but they've never been in the business because they needed to be. That's the trick, that's what makes them better than everyone else. They're in this because it's fun.

Danny presses two fingers against Rusty's collarbone, Rusty watches Danny watch his own fingers twist around so he's dragging his knuckles across Rusty's chest and Rusty can't breathe at all so he leans forward to catch Danny's mouth again.

It's nothing at first, for just a second, it's nothing. His mouth is pressed dryly to the open curve of Danny's bottom lip and Danny's got two fingers under the top button of Rusty's shirt and they're just breathing, for a second, or trying to, and it's nothing.

Except that it's never been nothing between them and so Danny undoes the button and presses closer again and Rusty opens his mouth for Danny's again like he'd meant to do this all along, from the first time Danny looked at him and smiled and said, I'll show you a trick, if you want.

Rusty sighs and arches against Danny's hand, against his mouth, against his hip. Danny gasps again and moans at the movement and presses him into the door harder. And it's, well, Rusty kisses Danny like he's maybe never going to get to again because he thinks that maybe he never will and his skin is buzzing like he's had too many Irish coffees.

Danny has Rusty's shirt opened and his palm against the too-sharp bone of Rusty's hip and he's pressing his thumb into the hollow there like—Like something. Rusty's never been the one that's good with metaphors. He's never been the dreamer of the two of them. He's never been the one that talked pretty to get what he wanted. Danny's hands are soft against his skin.

He slides his hand up Danny's spine, fans his fingers out on Danny's ribs, in the grooves between them, and his thumb slides just there to make Danny make that noise and it isn't something Rusty ever imagined, but fuck if it isn't better than anything he ever could've. He wonders sometimes what it'd be like to be in Danny's head, to see these things before they happen and know what they'd be like then.

Somehow he doubts Danny knew about this, though, except for in the way that Danny's known for years that Rusty's eye will follow him across the room. He watches Danny's back because they're partners and he watches Danny's back because he likes to watch him move, sometimes.

Like the shift of muscles under his skin under Rusty's palm, the movement of strength that he never had to make a point of showing, that's so painfully perfectly obvious when Danny pushes against him more and Rusty's shoulder blade is going to be bruised by the door in the morning. Danny tastes like hard liquor and lust and something familiar that is hard to name and Rusty couldn't care less what happens as long as the kissing doesn't stop anytime soon.

He can feel Danny's heart beating furiously against his ribcage, against Rusty's palm, like it's trying to break out. Danny's fingers at just desperate enough at the button of Rusty's jeans that Rusty knows better than to think Danny ever thought of this or thought of this being this good if he did.

"Danny," Rusty says, against the hotwetperfect of Danny's mouth, because he's the details guy through to his blood and he can't stop being that. "Let's go to bed," he says, and bites down on Danny's lip when Danny's eyes flutter open.

God, he's got lashes like a girl. All long and pretty and it's fucking ridiculous that Rusty wants him so very, very badly.

"What?" Danny asks, very, very carefully, going very, very still like a puppy whose just been told no for the first time and doesn't quite get it.

Rusty laughs, and shifts against him just there where it's just. Really, really fucking good. Could be perfect, with less clothing. "Bed," he whispers slowly, his fingers sliding from Danny's ribs to press against his chest, to slide up and hold above his heart and maybe Rusty's the girl here after all. "I said, let's go to bed," he adds, backing Danny up.

"Oh," Danny says, when his knees hit the back of the nearest mattress. There're still cards spread out across the bed and they scatter when Danny falls down on it and pulls Rusty with him. "Okay," Danny says and kisses Rusty again, "this works."


He wakes up in the morning and decides that he is never, ever moving again.

Danny's breathing against the back of his neck, steady as Danny always is, and his leg is thrown over Rusty's.

It's hot outside again, and the sunlight coming in is insanely bright. It makes him miss the smog of LA or the rain in Seattle or the anything anywhere that wasn't hot, bright sunlight in New Mexico. It's cool in here though, under the sheet with Danny pressed up behind him molten-lava-summertime-in-Arizona hot.

He's pressed up behind him, fitted in close and they've always fit. They just have, from second one when Rusty was short and skinny and blond and Danny was short, and skinny and too-much-sun-brown all over like Rusty's always felt every Atlantic City delinquent youth should be. They hurled rocks at the waves, under the docks of the beaches they weren't supposed to be on and they hurled insults and inside jokes and laughter like it was a weapon and maybe twelve-year-old boys shouldn't have weapons after all. They sat on the concrete steps of Rusty's house, with the fence around the yard rusting around them, and Rusty finished Danny's sentences when his mom came up with the crunch of dried, nearly-dead grass under her feet and absolute steel in her voice.

Danny's hand is splayed across Rusty's middle. Thumb fitted just below his ribs and palm pressing against the slight curve of his belly, like, well. It's stupid and it's stupid and they've always fit together like that so they should've fit together like this and they don't because Danny's feet are too big and his fingers clench too tight in Rusty's hair and Rusty's never liked waking up in bed with someone else.

But it sort of kind of hurts to breathe and it would probably hurt to move and he's so not ready for this. He closes his eyes and goes back to sleep.


"You're lazy," Danny says, and his thumbnail scratches Rusty's shoulder blade like he's tracing something there. His fingertips press into Rusty's shoulder and tap impatiently, like he's as bored with waiting as he's always been.

"You've wounded me," Rusty replies and yawns into his pillow and slaps at the hand sliding down his stomach.

"I'm sorry I called you lazy?" Danny tries and bites Rusty's shoulder. Rusty can feel him smile there, all slick, casual Danny, ready for anything and don't you just want to give him everything.

Rusty twists a little bit, and feels like a contortionist and his shoulder is pressed against Danny's chest. He rubs at his eyes and when he opens them again Danny's still propped up on one elbow hovering above him and looking amused and disheveled and like he spent all night having sex. Danny's mouth is kiss-swollen.

It's gonna be a long day.

"What time is it?" Rusty asks, and blinks and is mostly sure he doesn't care. Danny's framed by the light outside and the dark inside and it's something only Danny would ever be able to do, probably, and he's impossibly… impossible sometimes and he still grins all sexy, sleepy, sly like Rusty doesn't know everything about him.

And Rusty thinks about it, for all of the time that it takes Danny to pick his watch up off the floor because the alarm clock is flashing, and decides that he doesn't care at all today.

"Twelve-twenty," Danny says, and shows him the watch like he'd doubt it.

And, well, at least not everything is different.

Rusty sits up and his thigh slides across Danny's. "Alright," he says, and runs his fingers through his tangled hair, "first food, then tequila." Rusty's got a bruise on his arm and he pokes at it curiously. "I think we're going to need more tequila."

"Hey," Danny says, and catches his elbow before he can get out of bed. He pulls Rusty off-balance, which is tragically easy when he's just waking up, and kisses him like he's maybe never done it before except that, well, he has. So Rusty's just a little confused. And there's a spot on his chin that hurts when Danny kisses him, like it's been scraped raw. "We don't need more tequila." Danny grins.

And Rusty really wants to believe him, but he's always known better than to believe a liar.


They have lunch at McDonald's, a couple of Big Macs and large fries and two diet Cokes, because sometimes Danny hates to disrupt the American standard and sometimes Rusty goes along with it because he's half a second too slow to do anything else.

It's road food. They eat in the car and the salt burns when it hits the corner of his mouth. Rusty drives south because it seems the thing to do.


He thinks that maybe he could like El Paso in its swaggering Texas-Spanish way. There's red-dirt-sand because it's not, exactly, all that different from New Mexico. It's not, exactly, all that out of New Mexico.

The heat is the same, the ground is the same, the sunshine is the same and it's hot and he doesn't know why it is that he'd come back here and not there.

It's two in the afternoon and Danny is half asleep in the passenger seat, sitting and lazing in the sun like he accuses Rusty of doing. They've got a bag and a half of luggage between them that's in the backseat and Rusty's not sure what happened to Danny's tux, but he hasn't seen even part of it for days. Danny's wearing jeans again, a different pair and he can't remember the last time he saw Danny in this much denim for so long, but he's pretty sure it was before the made their grand escape from the New Jersey public school system three weeks early.

If Seattle smelled like mold then El Paso smells like dust.

The sun coming in through the windshield could melt the skin off your bones and the tires stir up dirt when he pulls off into the parking lot of a gas station roughly the size of a third world country and looking every bit as dirt poor. There's a kid sitting outside looking sticky and four and purple from a slushy.

Danny's asleep and Danny sleeps like the dead. He falls asleep and it's like trying to wake a corpse. Rusty's a skeptic of the con artist variety who knows not to believe a goddamn thing a person tells you, but he's pretty sure there are Voodoo priests out there who have better luck with the latter than Rusty's ever had with the former.

"Hey," Rusty says and puts his hand on Danny's thigh, "are you awake?"

Danny snuffles, sort of, in his sleep and it's not cute because he's been doing it as long as Rusty's known him so it's just annoying. He slides down in his seat and puts his forehead against the window and starts snoring.

"Okay," Rusty says, and grins. He turns off the car and cracks the window on his side so Danny doesn't actually suffocate and die, because that'd just be hard to explain.

Rusty goes inside with every intention of buying a map and leaving quickly, because the floors are concrete, and everything has a thin layer of dust covering it to make it feel gritty. There's a box fan in the window that just pushes around the heat and the dirt, tries to spread it out evenly. There's a guy sitting in a booth that every truck stop has stuffed into the corner wearing a cowboy hat and another behind the counter with a too big sweat-stained tank top and yellow swimming trunks.

He walks out with a six-pack of Coors, a red hat that says 'El Paso', a cherry slushy, an order of nachos, a bag of Fritos, a half-melted half-eaten Snickers bar and a map of El Paso that's got his thumb print in the corner in chocolate.

Danny wakes up when he gets back in the car. Sometime between Rusty slamming the door in an effort to not drop everything and putting the key in the ignition while he tries to get the chocolate off his fingers.

"Where," Danny asks, and pulls the baseball hat out of the bag. "Have you lost your mind?"

Rusty shrugs as he pulls out of his parking spot, somehow managing to back up, eat a nacho and still shift gears right when the engine wants him to. He hopes Danny is suitably amazed. He licks the cheese off his fingers and grins. "Maybe," he says. And grabs the map before Danny can get his hands on it. He might have a few trust issues in the map department, but only because he learns from his mistakes.

"Why did you buy all of this?" Danny asks, and his eyes are red with sleep.

"I didn't," Rusty says, "you did." He tosses Danny's wallet back to him.

"I'm in awe of that lift."

"Don’t be." Rusty laughs. "You wouldn't wake up if I spent ten minutes groping for it," he says, and grins.

He touches the back of Danny's neck and it's warmsoft like places that hide secrets best. Danny sighs, and huffs and smiles like he wants to be insulted but isn't and his thumb catches and strokes the inside of Rusty's wrist when he's pulling it away again.

Rusty decides that he gets Texas. He's earned it, after all these years.


They get tacos from a place that looks like lemonade stands look in movies, hand painted sign and everything and Danny's not as fearless as he'd like to believe because he hesitates and Rusty mocks him for it around a mouthful until he gives in.

They're right on the border, ten steps that way is Mexico and half an hour that way is New Mexico and they're sitting on the hot hood of the car in Texas watching as hikers make their way across a footbridge and eating tacos wrapped in crisp yellow paper.

Rusty spreads the map out between them, the bottom half of the United States and he holds Texas in his lap. There are buildings behind them that were built when this was still Mexico, when it was still their territory. Besides the two of them there doesn't seem to be anyone in a ten mile radius that speaks English.

"Let's," Danny says, and swallows a bite with beer out of a clear plastic cup, "go to Mexico, and get some real tequila."

"Or," Rusty says, with a smile, "we can stay in the United States and not get picked up by the border police for having a stolen vehicle and phony passports."

"Or we could do that." Danny shrugs. "Wouldn't be as much fun though."

Rusty shrugs and points over his shoulder with his thumb. "There's a liquor store half a mile that way, that you'd have seen if you weren't trying to steal the map, where I'd bet you anything you wanted that they've got tequila they carried over themselves."

"The map defies the point of this adventure," Danny says, and oh so carefully switches tracks like he does when he knows Rusty is right and he is wrong. Rusty bites his thumb and doesn't let Danny see him smile.

"I thought the point of this adventure was that there wasn't a point to this adventure."

"Or," Danny says, all casual flirting mock seriousness, which, actually, is the only kind of seriousness he's ever been able to really muster if they weren't working, "we could check into a hotel and not come out for a week."

"Or we could do that," Rusty says, and he's never minded being the echo.


It's another cheap motel room, same as all the others only this one might actually be locally owned. A real, gods-honest Mom and Pop joint if Pop is a balding army retiree and Mom is a thirty-something with three kids under the age of five who cleans out the rooms and doesn't speak English.

Rusty's never had to try, but he'd like to think there are better ways to get a green card.

"We could try and see," Danny says, because he hasn't had to be told what Rusty was thinking since Rusty's fifteenth birthday. "Bet we could get you an old man who'd let you live the high life. You're pretty enough."

Rusty kicks Danny's calf, then hooks his ankle around to bring him closer. "What," he asks, and bats his eyelashes at Danny like every third fourteen-year-old girl they pass will, "you won't take care of me, Danny? I have to go find someone else to give me what I need? Sell myself at auction for the highest bidder?"

Danny laughs, and his palm fits sort of perfect around the back of Rusty's skull. Sort of. The nail on his index finger is torn and it catches and pulls at Rusty's hair. "Could I dress you up however I wanted? Put you in cowboy boots and chaps and watch you ride?"

"Never gonna happen," Rusty tells him on a whisper against his collarbone, where he's bent to hide his smile. "Do you know how uncomfortable chaps are? It's not any fun."

"God," Danny says, looking wide-eyed like he's torn between disbelief and, well, disbelief. Like he's got the mental image and Rusty really is never doing that because cowboy boots have pointy toes that hurt his feet so he might as well enjoy it while he can. He surges forward and bites Rusty's lip before he kisses him because this is what it is and it isn't about soft or slow or easy.


"Oh, George," Rusty says, falsely high-pitched and sounding as real as a porn star reads their lines and he can't. He can't stop laughing.

Danny covers his face with his hands and jumps when Rusty brushes fingers down his side. Their ankles knock together, there's a gasp of skin sliding against skin that sounds from their thighs.

"I," Danny says, and his chest is vibrating with his unstealthy, silent laugh and Rusty can feel it all the way to his toes and they aren't even touching, really, except their knees hit together and their ankles are tangled and Danny's elbow is two inches from Rusty's nose, "hate that story."

"I love that story," Rusty grins and doesn't stop laughing and can't stop laughing and never saw the difference anyway.


Rusty stretches, into the space between them, with a yawn like waking up just before dawn because you have to. He turns three inches into two. If real life were a comic book that'd be his super power and Batman would have nothing on him.


Thirteen sneaks up on them when they aren't looking like it has a habit of doing.

Danny is sitting in the chair, map spread out across a table too small to hold it all, and Rusty's watching the lights of the TV flicker behind his closed eyes.

Rusty rubs at his jaw absently, it's stubble rough and stubble roughened and stubble raw. He's never, never been this raw, he thinks, not even that one time when Danny forgot to look where he was going because Rusty didn't remind him and Danny'd never learned to not drag Rusty into his messes.

He thinks, and he says, completely without meaning to, "Ought to buy you a razor from Wal-Mart. The cheap, yellow plastic throwaway kind," and Rusty doesn't mean to say it because it's almost exactly a direct quote from his mother the first time she'd seen Danny with hair on his chin and it makes him feel slightly, a little bit ill, like he's had too much to drink and his stomach is lurching all over.

The map crinkles under Danny's palms, a sickening crunch of paper Rusty'd worked hard to earn the right to, as Danny stands up, naked as the day he was born, and puts his hands on his hips like his mother used to do. "Rusty Ryan," Danny says, and tries to glower, but Danny's never done that half as well as he smirks, "I cannot believe that you would say such a thing. Those words in this room of all places?"

And then thirteen hits them, and Rusty reaches out and wraps his fingers around Danny's arm and pulls until he lets himself be pulled over. "Danny," he says, and grins, "I'm gonna kick your ass for that." And he hasn't had enough to drink to excuse it.

"Really?" Danny asks, rightfully doubtful because Rusty's never won with him.

"Really," Rusty answers, and nods and is half hanging off of the bed. He tugs at Danny's wrist again, until Danny crawls into bed with him. "Really, really," he says. "Ready?"

Danny laughs when Rusty rolls them over, rolls on top. He pushes back and they wrestle like they did then, when they were thirteen and shouting and breaking things in the living room and laughing and being thirteen with cracking voices and too much to learn.

Rusty straddles Danny's waist, and licks a stripe across the soft curve of the inside of his elbow as he holds Danny's wrists above his head.

"Cheater," Danny gasps, and it isn't like it was when they were thirteen at all because they're both stupidly, achingly, breathlessly hard and Rusty won this round, but only because he cheated.


They don't get dressed for three days and then they do. Rusty makes faces at the shirt that Danny wears. It smells like sweat and heat and car rides. It's says Grand Teton National Park on the front and has pieces of New Mexico buried in deep.

He doesn't have to ask to know that means it's time to go. He and Danny start throwing things into bags because they've never been masters at packing.


It's early Sunday morning traffic outside. It's very bright and very hot and Rusty can't find his sunglasses and the map is tucked under Danny's arm. There are too many cars and too many people out and about and Danny wants to drive but Rusty doesn't want to die so he refuses to give up the keys.

He drives past churches with full parking lots for an hour before pulling into a diner for breakfast. The kind of greasy spoon that Denny's aspired to be when it began.

The waitress is sitting at the counter when they walk in; her uniform is the same color of pink as every kind of truly horrible medicine and her gray hair is pulled back into a bun and her shoes are probably older than Rusty and Danny combined. The letters on her nametag are rubbed off.

Rusty barely gets to place his order before she's bringing them orange juice and coffee and plates with food piled high. A three am breakfast at breakfast time is almost something novel, and everything is covered in gravy.

It's good enough to ignore the way his feet sort of stick to the floor and the way Danny keeps saying, "Isn't it more fun if you don't know where you're going?"


Rusty drives while Danny plays with the radio, but they're in the middle of nowhere, really, so the only thing it'll pick up is static or country music or commercials. Rusty's more fond of the static, when it gets right down to it.

"This sucks," Rusty says, because he's a master of the English language when he wants to be, if he really sets his mind to it.

Danny laughs and cups a palm around Rusty's knee, fingertips making small, soothing circles on the inside of Rusty's thigh like he actually thinks he's helping, except he's grinning like he knows better.

They settle on a car commercial, for all of fifteen seconds, before Danny gets bored and flips the station again. He ends up singing along, very off key, to Willie Nelson. Just for kicks he adds in a horrible, exaggerated twang.

He keeps his hand on Rusty's leg and Rusty drives and drives and drives.


(part two)
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